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An Update on 2015’s Music Festivals

 
By on Friday, 10th October 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Photo above amen from Martin’s coverage of Kendal Calling 2014

The long, sunny days of summer festivals are now fading into distant memories. But behind the scenes things are moving apace. Autumn is the time where festivals are awarded their baubles – most toilets per head, gloopiest mud, highest concentration of dreadlocks per square mile, that sort of thing. And planning for 2015 is already under way. For those of us pining for those heady days and nights, here’s a quick update of the state of play for some of TGTF’s favourite events as we head towards the season before the season of festival season 2015. Or something.

Glastonbury

There’s a new record for Glastonbury ticket sales, many of which sold out before they were even released, leading keen industry observers, and many physicists, to further speculate about the invention of time travel devices in the not so distant future. Which would also explain Radio 4’s spookily accurate racing tips this week. Critics of such a theory point out that surely a time travel device could be put to better use than simply jumping the queue for festival tickets. Which is a fair point, although consider involvement of Britain’s favourite pin-up physicist, Brian Cox – it all starts to make sense. If D:Ream feature on Glasto’s bill next year, the hypothesis will be considered proven.

Kendal Calling

Everyone’s favourite non-mainstream mainstream festival, Kendal Calling has been nominated for four awards at the “prestigious” UK Festival Awards. They won Best Medium Sized Festival last year, and considering this year it was only a bit bigger, they’ve got a good shot at winning again. Suede’s performance is nominated for Best Headline Performance, which it was, at least for this correspondent. I’m not so sure about Best Toilets though – cubicles with no toilet paper or sanitiser within the first hour of the festival are hardly best practice. Mr A. Loos needs to do better. They’re also nominated for Best Family Festival, which brings us neatly to…

Deer Shed Festival

Never ones to rest on their laurels, Deer Shed have announced an expanded site and an expanded time-frame, introducing Sunday night camping for the very first time. Just like every other festival then, although the lack of Sunday camping has long been an attraction for parents wanting to get their kids (and, for that matter, themselves) in a comfortable bed at a reasonable hour for school on Monday morning. It’s back to the past for the first band announcement, which sees Dave Gedge’s Yorkshire indie pioneers The Wedding Present back for their first gig since headlining the first ever Shed. Early bird tickets are on sale today, Friday the 10th of October, at the bargainacious price of £89, so don’t delay if you like punky indie on the hottest North Yorkshire weekend of the year.

PS The Wedding Present are releasing several of their back catalogue recordings as multi-disc sets this October. With previously unreleased audio, TV footage, and ‘ephermera’, these will be for completists only. It’s nice to know there are still some out there.

Liverpool Sound City

And finally… Sound City have opened the application process for bands wishing to play the event in 2015. So for any readers with an unrequited passion to play at a world-renowned career-launching industry event, get your applications in without delay. You can’t fare any worse than Willy Moon.

 

In the Post #135: Paul Smith and Peter Brewis present ‘Frozen By Sight’ collaboration

 
By on Wednesday, 8th October 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Maximo Park’s Paul Smith and Field Music’s Peter Brewis have a new collaboration. ‘Frozen By Sight’ combines Brewis’ formidable musical chops with Smith’s rum lyrics, inspired by, or possibly lifted verbatim from, notes collected on his travels. Which amounts to some jazz-rock noodling overlaid with Smith’s momentously banal observations. There’s more than a whiff of Grauniad-endorsed chin-stroking implied here, with a side order of 6th-form pretension: imagine your least favourite uncle’s holiday slide show commentary with a soundtrack by Creme Brulée from The League of Gentlemen and you’re in the right ballpark.

‘Exiting Hyde Park Towers’ comes first. Ignore the ugly Americanism “exiting” and focus on the fact that the story largely comprises Smith hanging around in a London park observing a chap taking a phone call, meeting up with his girlfriend (who, it is noted, is wearing pink flip-flops), and wandering off into the distance. And there was I hoping for some incisive social commentary. ‘Barcelona (At Eye Level)’ is similarly dramaless – some people wander around the marina and lightning flashes a few times. Why did Gaudi bother?

Having said all that, as you might expect Brewis is as strong as ever, intertwining delicate yet assertive strings throughout his arrangements, showcasing the south-of-Tyne sounds we’ve come to know and love – big, thudding ’70s-style drums, fluid time signatures ebbing and flowing as required, and meaty, up-front production. Smith is known for his, as Yoko Ono would put it, “moon, spoon, june” lyrical style, so it’s quite pleasant to hear him take a more stream-of-consciousness approach here, which suits the meandering nature of the soundtrack and indeed the concept as a whole. And to be fair they do deliver on the concept – Smith has frozen a moment in time by visual observation, and baldly recorded it in a literary form halfway between prose and poetry, rather than a more conventional medium – that of photography, say.

Both tracks essentially desperately want to be ‘A Day in the Life’, and whilst Brewis does have a good stab at that multi-movemented style of orchestral pop, sadly Smith is no Paul McCartney when it comes to telling a story. He’s far too literal, lacking any sense of the fantastic, not letting his imagination intervene in his transcriptions of the day-to-day goings-on he observes. A decent dose of fancy, perhaps a tinge of psychedelia, or a few thousand conceptual holes, would have helped him climb out of a literal, lyrical one. But it will in all likelihood make a decent live happening, so for those of you lucky enough to live in London, Manchester or Gateshead (coincidentally the finest three cities in the UK), their live show is coming to you in December.

‘Frozen By Sight’ is due to be released on the 17th of November on Memphis Industries. The three-date English tour is set to take place in mid-December; all the details are here.

 

Album Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony

 
By on Thursday, 2nd October 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

While Arctic Monkeys are busy both seducing and being seduced by America, and psychedelia is experiencing a powerful revival, the mainstream British guitar band format is arguably languishing (the efforts of a ragtag bunch of Britpop has-beens aside). Step forward Catfish and the Bottlemen, a vaguely Welsh group who specialise in big, guitar-y choruses and the occasional swear word. Considering they’ve been together for years, plugging away with local gigs whilst subsisting on nothing but dole money and dreams of stardom, the past few months must represent an unparalleled whirlwind of activity for Catfish and the Bottlemen. It all comes to a head with the release of their début album, ‘The Balcony.’

The last year or so has seen them release no less than six singles, first on the Communion label and then on Island records, which means ‘The Balcony’ is less album, more greatest hits collection of the band’s short career so far. Album tracks are outnumbered by single releases, which means it takes until track six before a previously unheard song makes an appearance. ‘Homesick’, ‘Kathleen’, ‘Cocoon’, ‘Pacifier’, ‘Rango’ and ‘Fallout’ will already be known to keen Catfish followers, and to this reviewer’s ears ‘Sidewinder’ sounds familiar, too. So the question is, by collecting their singles together and throwing in some B-sides, does ‘The Balcony’ add up to a more coherent release than the singles taken alone?

Sadly, not quite. Despite how appealing the occasional guilty pleasure of 3 minutes of chewy pop-rock is, trying to digest 11 such morsels in one sitting serves to highlight the genre’s inherent one-note dynamic. It’s a single paradigm – crunchy guitars, classically gritty British frontman vocals, big drums, loads of lead guitar flying over the top – and every song bar one is constructed from the same ingredients. Which is not to say there aren’t individual exciting moments here – McCann does have a genuine talent for delivering a hook-laden lead vocal, as heard particularly on ‘Kathleen’, and an everyman way with lyrics, generally concerning slightly tawdry, drunken liasons with the fairer sex (on ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Business’, for example), enlivened by the liberal use of F-bombs.

After the singles have come and gone, the mid-album ‘Hourglass’ starts acoustically, showcasing McCann’s ability to deliver a folky vocal style, his chugging rhythm guitar style, and fondness for swearing, and contributes a welcome, if modest, respite from the previous five songs’ walls of overdriven electric guitars. But after that it’s literally ‘Business’ as usual, as the overdrive pedals get stomped on, with five more big-hitters to come before the end. Subtle it’s not; effective – at least in the sense of getting people excited and jumping around – it certainly is.

None of these songs are likely to change anyone’s life or appear in a Desert Island Discs top 10. But what they do have the power to do is put a big, fat grin on one’s face for half an hour or so, particularly if they’re played loud and accompanied by a paper cup of slopping lager. Unlike sniffy, jaded reviewers, subtlety and complexity are clearly unimportant to a big chunk of the record-buying public. Big riffs and infectious enthusiasm go a long way, and with their first post-album tour sold out across the country (a tribute to the boisterous and powerful Catfish live show, the energy of which isn’t quite captured here), there’s no doubt that Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of the big cheeses of British guitar music right now. All they need to prove it is an offshore bank account.

6.5/10

‘The Balcony’, Catfish and the Bottlemen‘s debut album on Communion / Island Records, is available now. They are on tour in October and November 2014, as well as in March and April 2015 as recently announced.

 

Album Review (on cassette!): PINS – Come Back EP

 
By on Monday, 22nd September 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

In an ever-more-likely attempt at world domination, PINS demonstrate their impeccable taste, and perhaps betray more than a little of their idolatry, with the advent of their ‘Come Back’ EP, released on cassette to coincide with Cassette Store Day on 27th September. Gadzooks – what next? Wax Cylinder Week? Floppy Disk Fortnight?

Each of the three tracks is a cover – ‘Come Back’ is by The Belles, ‘I’m Leaving You’ by Char Vinnedge and Mary Gallagher, and ‘You Don’t Love Me’ by bluesman Willie Cobbs, which is perhaps the most instantly recognisable song – think Dawn Penn’s skanking reggae version with added “na na na”s, or perhaps, for the younger generation, Beyoncé’s brief poptastic live cover. Whichever way you cut it though, PINS deliver the definitive garage-rock version here.

More intriguing still is the origins of the title track. The Belles are a little-known Miami group from the early ‘60s, with nary an album to their name. How they can come up with something as spanking as ‘Come Back’ and thereafter sink into obscurity is unknown, and something of a shame. They did a cover of Them’s ‘Gloria’, changing the title to ‘Melvin’, with tongue-in-cheek consequences, but that’s about all we know about them. Certainly deserving of a modest revival courtesy of PINS. Cleverly, the original of ‘Come Back’ is 2 minutes, 12 seconds long; the cover is exactly the same length. Spooky coincidence or admirable attention to detail? You decide.

‘Come Back’ will be released on cassette in a limited run of 100 for Cassette Store Day on Saturday, the 27th of September, so get eBaying for those vintage Walkmans right away.

 

Secret Sofar Sounds Newcastle show – 15th September 2014

 
By on Friday, 19th September 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

In a student-heavy front room in a student-heavy part of town, only the sixth Newcastle Sofar Sounds kicks off. As regular TGTF readers will know, the idea of Sofar is to bring live music literally into people’s front rooms. In some parts of the world, the events are wildly oversubscribed, making a pass-in one of the hottest tickets in town. Newcastle has yet to reach such giddy heights of success, but it’s not for the want of quality acts. Acoustic troubadour and medical student Matt Hunsley hosts, his housemates and fellow students make up most of the crowd, and TGTF was there to record proceedings.

Suntrapp, aka Jake Houlsby, is that rarest of things: a professional musician. That is to say, he earns his living through playing music. Most acts one might read about in these pages are amateurs: they work other jobs in order to finance their music making. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that; the amateur artist has the freedom to work within any discipline and any style, regardless of its commercial appeal. Professionals, however, prostrate themselves before the altar of money, making or playing whatever their customer demands. Thankfully, tonight Houlsby the pro is appearing as his alter-ego Suntrapp, so we are spared the ‘Your Song’ cover. What we are treated to is a close-quarters set of his songs so far: the pretty ‘New Morning’ is a delicately-picked ditty showcasing Houlsby’s plaintive vocal style; more memorable still is the set-closing instrumental piece: a flamenco-inspired loop overlaid with some lovely mariachi flourishes, which apparently sounds great in a church.

What becomes apparent as Suntrapp’s set progresses is how reverent the audience are tonight. One could literally hear a pin drop. Given the recent complaints about the rudeness and ignorance of modern audiences – speaking loudly during quiet bits and being obsessed with selfieing themselves in front of the band – the atmosphere tonight comes as a refreshing and deeply welcome change. If anything, this is the biggest attraction of Sofar: because this is an invited audience, everyone is here to listen to the music rather than have their own little narcissistic party.

Brooke Bentham is even more sparse of guitar, but wonderful of voice. She ranges between dusky low pitch and delicate falsetto. ‘We’ll Be Ghosts’ is stunning in its minimal presentation; she really lets her spectacular voice rip towards the end of the song and it’s a thing of beauty. There’s a song about Oscar Wilde, which hints at literary pretension, and gives a depth to the songwriting that does justice to the presentation. Apparently she’s moving to London soon to study at Goldsmiths, where she will no doubt go onto huge things indeed.

And who is this headlining? Surely not Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, the Glastonbury-competition-winning folk four-piece? Yes it is, and they sound utterly wonderful. There’s Bridie with her guitar, there’s a cello, a fiddle (not violin, as I am corrected later), and a percussionist sat on a cajon and wielding some lovely obscure noise-making artefacts. ‘Crying Beast’ – apparently written about a tiny monster who enters a house via the letterbox and feeds upon the negative energy within until it takes up a whole room – treads a delicate path between light and dark; ethereal beauty and hints of discord live uneasily together, resolved by the final coda of “I’m shrinking as you grow”.

Tonight’s presentation suits such material perfectly – the pristine, note-perfect three-part harmonies are a wonder to behold at such close quarters; the bowed instruments are plucked in unconventional ways to variously mimic lead parts or give the impact of a bass guitar. In their mastery of traditional arrangements, twisted into thoroughly modernist songwriting, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour share much with fellow northeasteners The Unthanks, which is high praise indeed. They’ve got a new album out in ‘New Skin’, and are just about to embark on a tour of suitably unconventional venues across the country, notably the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, attendance at which comes highly recommended.

Out of everything that went right tonight, only the venue leaves a little to be desired. Yes, it’s in a secluded corner of a leafy part of town, but a quick tidy up and brush of the feather duster wouldn’t go amiss, particularly in the bathroom. And how much does a bag of tea lights cost these days? A few throws and a bit of atmospheric candle-lighting would make things feel that bit more special from a visual point of view. To be fair, this is a student house, so on that scale it’s a palace; still, a variety of venue might make the Sofar offer even more compelling.

But that’s picking nits, frankly. Sofar offers an unmatched opportunity to see acts “in the raw” as it were, stripped of anything as vulgar as amplification. Vocals and instrumentation are as naked as their maker intended, which means they carry a tonal, and therefore emotional, impact rarely found at a live performance. Tonight is quite the most intimate and respectful night of music one could ever have the good fortune to encounter. Bring on next month.

 

Kendal Calling 2014: Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 15th September 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

All of Martin’s coverage of Kendal Calling 2014 is this way.

After Suede at Kendal Calling 2014, it’s time for Mr Scruff to funk the night away. The very definition of ubiquitous, the unassuming, ginger-bearded figure of Scruff is in real danger of becoming one of those strange beasts – the Super-DJ. Presumably only his down-to-Earth Mancunian work ethic prevents him from descending into David Guetta-style hedonism, a tendency encapsulated by his enthusiasm for a nice cup of tea.

The genius of Scruff’s performance can be summed up in three words: take your time. When thought of on the scale of an individual song, his build-ups give gentle but persistent encouragement. Each 2-, 4-, and 8-bar loop carry subtle variations: very rarely is anything repeated verbatim. The same attention to detail can be heard on the wider scale of a whole set: there’s an underlying breakbeat backbone to pretty much everything that he does, overlaid with various magpie samples and synth melodies.

There are occasional acid house tropes, like on 2011’s ‘Wobble Control’, where he threatens to throw caution to the wind and take refuge in cliché, but never does the temptation manifest itself into anything as common as a four-to-the-floor beat: he remains focussed on the funk throughout. The only criticism to be levelled at Scruff is that he’s a bit of a tease – because he’s so good at buildups, he won’t let himself really come to a climax, which as you can imagine can be somewhat frustrating. Indeed, some of his set tonight is dull to the point of becoming muzak. Only the ever-present childlike cartoon visuals provide something for the brain to do whilst the feet move as instructed by the beat, without any intervention of the intellect. Having said that, Scruff is the consummate professional and can be relied upon to get a tent jigging around like mad things, so perhaps repetition is indeed the essence of dance music. Who knew?

Etches are the lovechild of an electronica band and a conventional guitar-led indie outfit. Their songs are complex, structurally unconventional and melodically oblique. Being based in Liverpool, there’s naturally a hint of psych buried deep within their sound, all of which combines to birth a song like ‘The Charm Offensive’, which soars through the ether like a deranged seagull. The highlight of their set is a slowcore version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, which is quietly astonishing.

If Etches have a hint of psych, The Lucid Dream have it running through their veins and printed through their marrow like a stick of paisley Blackpool rock. 2011’s ‘Heartbreak Girl’ is a noisy, scally cousin to Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’, with speed-ups and slow-downs galore and an utterly incomprehensible arrangement. Fast-forward to 2013’s ‘Songs of Lies and Deceit’, on which the folk-tinged lunacy gives way to full-on electric guitar stomp, absolutely swimming in reverb, echo and delay. Mark Emmerson swaggers around the stage like Liam Gallagher does in his own lucid dreams, when he imagines he’s actually cool and popular again. A somewhat bizarre melodica interlude notwithstanding (is there any less rock ‘n’ roll instrument than the melodica?) The Lucid Dream are perhaps the find of the weekend. A set of world-class psychedelia from a bunch of Cumbrian scallys – who’d a thunk it?

Perhaps I’m biased due to the Northeast roots of Gallery Circus, but by crikey they make a brilliant, cerebrally-challenging racket. To pigeonhole them as yet another novelty bassless duo would be in itself baseless; perhaps due to their being twins, Daniel and Graeme Ross have a psychic awareness of what the other is about to play, which means they are one of the most telepathically sharp bands one could hope to see. Their own songs are superb – from the patchwork virtuoso hard rock of ‘Supercell’, to the illegally funky white soul of ‘Club House Killer’, they know how to write a tune – and they know how to cover one too. Climaxing with a rendition of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ could be a recipe for disaster, given the regard in which the original classic is held – needless to say their cover is superb, respectful and note-perfect. They are well deserving of their BBC Introducing at Glastonbury shout this year – on this evidence, the first of many.

Razorlight were present and correct. An uncomfortable moment at the beginning of the set notwithstanding (Johnny Borrell’s guitar developed a fault in the first song and he spent the rest of it flouncing grumpily, directing evil stares at soundman and guitar tech alike), they sounded decent, looked every inch the sharp rock ‘n’ roll band, and nobody can deny the merits of their back catalogue. Quite what relevance they carry beyond being their own tribute band remains to be seen – Kendal does have a penchant for greatest hits sets – but Borrell remains a compelling frontman, and the crowd seemed to lap it up.

Most British nu-folk-rock is a load of old twaddle. See Amber Run in the first part of this review for further details. So how refreshing it is to come across a band who manage to combine a stringed instrument that isn’t a guitar into a coherence that doesn’t rely on discredited, worn-out tropes. The Mispers have a lovely driving sound peppered with elements of genuine English folk music. There’s a smart young lady playing a fiddle, the chap singing manages to pull off wearing nothing but a waistcoat, there’s electronica bubbling under the surface, and some decent electric guitar when circumstances demand it. 2014 single ‘Brother’ is a perfect case in point. A lithe violin figure frames a musing on family which builds to a firm climax without relying on the tired and tiresome quiet-loud-quiet structure (as parodied so brilliantly by Dion Beary in his ‘Every Mumford And Sons Song Basically’ video). The Mispers prove that folk-rock can be done properly, and, basically, prove how right I’ve been all along. Ha. Thanks, The Mispers.

And then Evil Blizzard arrived and the review must draw to a close at this point. No matter how many fireworks or dancing monkeys might appear later on in the festival, there’s no point in even describing them – in comparison with Evil Blizzard, they are nary a footnote in musical history, a pale imitation of what can truly be achieved with fancy dress, latex face masks and four bass players. If it was about the music, one could say something like, “‘Clones’ combines Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘On a Rope’ guitar riff, Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’ key change and John Lydon’s Public Image Limited plaintive, detuned vocal howl to generate an ear-pounding four minutes of chaos.” But Evil Blizzard aren’t really about the music as such, in the same way that what you hear at a rave isn’t something you’d take away and sit down on your sofa and listen to with a nice cup of tea. It all only makes sense in context, with the perspective of appropriate surroundings, and more importantly, in the presence of other audience members, if only to remind oneself that what you’re experiencing isn’t some particularly cruel hallucination, a flashback from the previous night’s “adult disco”.

There’s no point in trying to describe what the band look like – words cannot adequately convey the psychological discomfort that their appearance engenders. They stand, staring, mute, firing chaos from their basses, challenging the audience to stay and imbibe rather than run and cry. The heavens open; the blizzard arrives. “Evil” masks are distributed, which is when things become further surreal. Children don the masks – we are surrounded by tiny, faceless, black-eyed beings, foreheads “Evil”-emblazoned, where just moments before there was a gaggle of carefree children playing in the mud. Some somehow end up onstage, invited to pluck bass guitars, and are then held aloft, in a celebration of the essential innocence of children, even when they are surrounded and encouraged by such ambiguous chaos.

The baby’s-head theremin is unveiled, the lead singer prowling amongst the crowd, inviting them to stroke it, and, inevitably, to lick the baby’s bare scalp – several ladies are happy to oblige, to a soundtrack of increasingly pained squeals from the baby. Bass guitars are offered around; the music climaxes; the frontman wanders off into the crowd to steal someone’s drink. Eventually the 20-minute ‘Whalebomb’ draws to a stumbling denouement; everyone slowly emerges from their bad dream, as if suddenly being woken from hypnotism, or stumbling to the end of a particularly bad trip. And for the select few who had braved the Evil Blizzard at Kendal Calling 2014, nothing would ever be quite the same again.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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